The hon. Gentleman is wrong. For example, the Association of County Councils welcomed improvements in targets for low spenders. Indeed, I have received a number of letters from individual authorities which have expressed their appreciation for the fact that we delivered the commitment that we made this time last year. They also welcomed the increased emphasis on GREs as a basis for grant distribution. Of course there have been criticisms from other authorities and associations, and no doubt we shall have an opportunity fairly shortly to debate this matter.
Mr. John Mark Taylor:
Will my right hon. Friend take note that one of the Government's most loyal local authorities is Solihull, which, for its good stewardship, has been penalised £2 million in rate support grant?
As my hon. Friend knows, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government has agreed to meet him and a deputation from Solihull. We are constantly pressed by the local authority associations for improvements and changes in the GRE system, but when these changes are made they inevitably result in different effects on different local authorities because they are intended to be more accurate and and to reflect more precisely the circumstances of individual authorities.
Is the Secretary of State aware that his predecessor visited the north east part of Coventry—the are represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Park) — and described the housing conditions there as among the worst he had ever seen? How does the right hon. Gentleman justify the decision just before Christmas to reduce to less than £8 million the housing allocation to Coventry? That is a third of what the city needs for its council housing, and according to council housing officials it means that it will take nearly 35 years for private housing in Coventry to be repaired and renovated to any sort of decent standard. How does the right hon. Gentleman justify these cuts?
That goes wider than the original question, which was about rate support grant. We should increasingly ask ourselves how those properties got like that. It was not the tenants. Who was it? How did they get like that? I believe that the record of many local authorities in relation to the management of council housing estates is a scandal, and I have no doubt whatever that many councils could do a great deal better if they really buckled down to it.
When my right hon. Friend considered these representations, how did he justify the fact that a 25 per cent. discount is applied to London rateable values because they are so high, but that the same fair treatment is not applied to Hertfordshire, Berkshire or Surrey, as a result of which they lose rate support grant?
I am well aware of my hon. Friend's point. It is made regularly by the home counties. I must tell him that the differentials in rateable values in the Greater London area by and large justify the variation to which my hon. Friend has drawn attention. It could not be said to apply to the counties outside London. That position has now obtained for a number of years and is built into the statement that I made in December.
Is the Secretary of State aware that at least 16 Conservative-controlled shire counties have lost, in aggregate, £120 million of grant for next year over this year, including Essex, which has lost £19 million, Hertfordshire, which has lost £14 million, and Surrey, which has lost £16 million? Have those 16 authorities welcomed the rate support grant settlement?
Many points have been made to the Government about the rate support grant settlement, but there is general recognition, especially by many members of the ACC, that there is merit in restoring the councils' accountability to local ratepayers by reducing the share of expenditure which is met by the Government. In that we are merely following the practice of the previous Government. That is the main reason why the grant to those authorities has been reduced.